13 September 2006

Sudan: Bird Flu in Juba

Juba/Kampala — A DARK shadow has been cast over attempts to chart a peaceful end to the conflict in northern Uganda after medical authorities confirmed an outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus in the South Sudan capital Juba, which is the setting for the peace talks.

The government yesterday took decisive steps and issued a red alert, warning the public, especially those travelling to Juba or South Sudan and those in districts bordering Sudan, to be on the look out for any signs of the lethal Avian Influenza disease that predominantly attacks birds.

However, the leader of the government delegation, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda (above), who is a frequent visitor to Juba and now temporary resident at the South Sudan's provisional capital, said yesterday that there was no cause for alarm.

"The South Sudan authorities are taking necessary measures to protect the people and Sudan. The Uganda delegation is a beneficiary of those adequate public health measures like any other person in Sudan," Rugunda said.

The Avian Influenza, a contagious flu, is caused by viruses that attack many domesticated birds including chickens, ducks and turkeys, weakening their respiratory organs and killing them.

Dr Sam Okware, the Chairperson of the National Task Force on Bird Flu, said on Monday, that the outbreak was confirmed "on September 6 and is affecting local domestic chickens."

However, news of the outbreak only trickled into the public domain in Juba yesterday, causing panic among locals. Local radio stations in Juba aired public announcements in Arabic, English and local languages explaining to people the preventive measures against contracting the flu.

In a press statement from the Ministry of Health, Okware said medical personnel in the areas in close proximity to South Sudan had been put on red alert to institute surveillance procedures to detect any possible outbreaks in the country.

"The district health officers and the district veterinary officers of Nebbi, Arua, Koboko, Yumbe, Moyo, Adjumani, Pader, Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, Apac, Kaabong, Kotido and Moroto must strengthen their district bird flu task forces to enhance surveillance and Public education," Okware said.

The disease, which made global headlines in December 2003 after killing thousands of birds in China, is a potentially lethal virus that can mutate into a format that attacks and kills humans.

Up to 60 people were reportedly killed by the virus in China.

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